After falling behind early, the Rowdies settled themselves to the tune of a much-needed victory, 2-1 against New York Red Bulls II Friday at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, N.J.
Against a squad where he would be counted among the grizzled veterans, Rowdies’ 20-year-old Jordan Adebayo-Smith provided a key spark all night, tying the game with a 33rd-minute goal. And veteran Max Lachowecki was essential, assisting on that score and providing the eventual game winner himself on a diving header early in the second half.
Both Tampa Bay goals came off corner kicks from Lewis Hilton. New York, a team that only has a handful of players born before 2000 and is generally at a physical disadvantage, has given up an inordinate amount of set-piece goals this season.
The win briefly put the Rowdies (10-6, 30 points) back atop the Atlantic Division before Pittsburgh (10-4-3, 33 points) claimed it back with a 3-2 victory at Charlotte a half hour later. Still, Tampa Bay will gladly claim its third road victory in seven tries, two coming in Montclair.
It required a response, as the hosts went ahead less than 10 minutes in on a fantastic shot by 20-year-old Jake Lacava. He dribbled into the penalty box before whipping a curling shot inside the right post past a fully stretched Rowdies goalkeeper Evan Louro. Serge Ngoma, all of 16, earned his first career assist.
Then Adebayo-Smith took over. Although his first touch off a Red Bulls poor pass took away a clean-looking chance in the 16th minute, his speed would later draw two New York yellow cards as he was breaking in on goal.
And in the 33rd minute, he completed a triple-header play off Hilton’s corner kick. Big defender Forrest Lasso sent the ball across to the right side, where Lachowecki acrobatically turned and headed the ball towards the goal and Adebayo-Smith just had to make contact with his head for the goal.
It was Adebayo-Smith’s first tally since June 2 — also in a win at New York — and the first career assist with the Rowdies for Lachowecki. The 29-year-old was in the lineup at left midfield due to a Thursday injury suffered by Leo Fernandes.
Rowdies head coach Neill Collins indicated afterwards that the injury to Fernandes is not serious. He also complimented Lachowechi, who concluded his big night by carrying team equipment back to the bus.
Just moments before the tying goal, New York (3-9-4, 13 points) nearly went up by two, but Jordan Scarlett made a clear block as the Red Bulls went in 2-on-1.
Adebayo-Smith broke in alone barely a minute into the second half, but New York’s Luca Lewis, 20, made a tremendous save. However, on the ensuing corner kick the ball found its way to Laurence Wyke, who crossed it to the right side where Lachowecki laid out, heading it in almost from turf level.
The Rowdies didn’t have many more good chances, but New York had a big one in the 66th minute. Louro tried to punch away a cross but collided with two players, and the ball rolled over to New York’s top scorer, Jeremy Rafanello. With Rowdies defender Aaron Guillen the only obstacle as Louro was out of the picture, Rafanello ripped one that clanged off the left post.
Tampa Bay outshot New York 13-8, with Adebayo-Smith and Lachowecki combining for more than half of the shots. The Rowdies had forward Steevan Dos Santos available off the bench for the first time since May, but with Tampa Bay leading, Collins indicated his services were not needed.
Right wingback Conner Antley, who was averaging 50 minutes per match, was on the field for the full 90 Friday, marking the second time that occurred.
It’s safe to expect Dos Santos will make his return to the pitch next Friday, when the Rowdies are back home to face Hartford.